The first thing Bora noticed when she parked her little car in the condo driveway was that the house looked like a very strange Neapolitan sandwich.
In more precise terms, it was painted in three segments. The left third of the house glared a neon green, while the right third burned a hot pink. The middle third wasn’t any color at all: just a plain gray, squeezed by the blinding opposite paints on either side.
Bora stared for a second. Then she turned off the car and shrugged to herself.
I guess, she thought as she strolled up to the house, I should expect some things to be a little funky for the price.
Half an hour later, she purchased the very cheap middle condo from the very eager realtor. She didn’t see the way the poor realtor wilted in relief as she cheerfully signed the mortgage documents.
One week later at four-fifty-eight in the afternoon, Bora was sitting on the new couch she had helped the movers carry in. She set down her glass of orange juice on the new coffee table and turned the television on. As she sank into the pillows and gulped the cold juice, she sighed contentedly and closed her eyes.
You know, she thought, I thought there might be something wrong with this condo because of the price. But really, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. There’s enough space, it’s quite cute, and the neighbors aren’t over-loud. I did quite a good job, didn’t I? Not a bad job, at all.
At that moment, the new clock on the wall ticked to five o’clock.
“YOU AWFUL SON OF A BITCH!”
Bora spilled orange juice all over the new couch.
“YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU NASTY TWIT! YOU REACH A NEW LEVEL OF BASTARDLINESS EVERY DAY, DON’T YOU? YOU HORRID APE!”
Bora’s mouth hung open. If there had been a fly in the room, it would have buzzed straight down her throat, after bathing in the orange juice sinking into the new couch cushions.
A door slammed open somewhere downstairs.
“WHAT IS IT THIS TIME, YOU UGLY WENCH? OH, MY EYES, MOTHER HELP ME, I’M MELTING LOOKING AT THIS MANKY MINGER! OH, HOW WRETCHED AM I TO BE A NEIGHBOR TO THIS HAIRY BEAST OF A WOMAN!”
“WHY, YOU TWERP, YOU COMPLETE APEISH ARSEHOLE, YOU BARMY GIT! YOU’RE THE MOST UNATTRACTIVE MAN I’VE EVER MET! ONE DAY I’LL SHOW YOU WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A BEAST OF A WOMAN, YOU!”
There came the sound of two people breathing very hard—evidently because they had just emptied their lungs with violent swearing.
Bora’s eyes twitched. Her mouth hung open; the hinges of her jaw seemed to have come unscrewed. The taste of citrus burned on her tongue.
She closed her mouth.
Very carefully, very cautiously, she crept to the door to crack it open. It creaked weakly in protest; she peered out into the condo lobby.
There were three doors in the condo lobby. To the left of the entrance, there was a glaring neon green door; to the right, there was a burning hot pink one. Straight across from the entrance was a plain gray door. That one was Bora’s.
Now, in the once-empty lobby, both the glaring neon green and burning hot pink doors had been thrown open, revealing the rooms behind them, which were painted the same glaring neon green and burning hot pink. And in front of the doors, there stood two of the most oddly dressed people Bora had ever seen.
In front of the hot pink door, there stood a very tall, very thin woman who was dressed from head to toe in pink. The thick frames of her cat-eyes glasses were hot pink; her large plastic hoop earrings were a furious fuschia, as were her knit sweater and her shiny clogs; the furry shawl draped around her shoulders was a violent blush. Her quilted skirt was an overripe peach, and the ribbon placed haphazardly in her long, untamed, impossibly curly hair was the color of bubblegum.
Opposite her, in front of the neon green door, stood a very tall, very thin man, who was dressed from head to toe in the most outrageous shades of green. The thin frames of his wiry glasses gleamed emerald; his turtleneck sweater was a perfect forest color; his khaki pants were the color of unripe limes. His loafers were a rather pleasant, though terribly clashing mint, and the watch on his wrist would have blended in with a bushel of basil.
Both of them were glaring at each other with absolute murder in their eyes.
Bora rubbed her eyes with her orange-juice sticky palms. She blinked and looked again, meeting, of course, the same spectacular sight.
I really don’t think I’m dreaming, she thought blankly. Is this—a neighborly…war?
At that moment, Ms. Hot Pink and Mr. Glaring Green turned their heads and looked straight at her. Their faces changed. The murder seeped out of their eyes. The air in the lobby was suddenly more breathable.
“Oh, hello there,” said Ms. Hot Pink. She smiled warmly at Bora, who was half-hiding behind her gray door. “You must be the new neighbor!”
“Yes, hello there, and welcome!” said Mr. Glaring Green, waving cheerily. “We’re always glad to have new neighbors.”
“What’s your name, dearie?” asked Ms. Hot Pink, stepping towards Bora in her furiously fuschia clogs.
“B-Bora,” said Bora. She smiled weakly and shook the coral pink-nailed hand Ms. Hot Pink extended to her. “I’m Bora Rhee. It’s—nice to meet you.”
Ms. Hot Pink moved aside, and there was Mr. Glaring Green standing behind her in his clashing mint loafers. He held out a firm hand, the basil watch glinting on his wrist.
“A pleasure to meet you, Bora,” he said. “I think we shall become great friends. You have an intellectual air about you—are you at all interested in history?”
“I—ah, a little bit,” said Bora haltingly, shaking the basil-watched hand. “I do find history interesting, though it’s not my field.”
“Ah! Lovely!” cried Mr. Glaring Green, clasping his hands together. “Tomorrow at four o’ clock, we ought to have tea over history books! I just—”
“HOW DARE YOU!”
Bora jumped. Ms. Hot Pink appeared suddenly next to Mr. Glaring Green, her murderous face so close to his that the tips of their pointy noses touched. There was a strange tension in the air. Bora closed her door a bit more and peered around the edge.
“HOW DARE YOU, YOU BITCH!” Ms. Hot Pink continued. Her voice was like the shriek of a tea kettle: high and ear-splitting. “YOU ARSEHOLE, I WAS GOING TO INVITE HER OVER FOR TEA OVER FASHION AT FOUR O’ CLOCK TOMORROW!”
Mr. Glaring Green seemed to swell up, which looked funny because he was thin as a pretzel. “THEN YOU,” he squawked with the shriek of a parrot, “SHOULD HAVE INVITED HER EARLIER! I’VE ALREADY INVITED HER FOR TEA AT FOUR OVER HISTORY AND THAT’S THAT! AND YOU KNOW WHAT, YOU MINGER?” He pushed his emerald-wired glasses up the bridge of his nose, and turned on Bora. Bora scooched further behind the door. “BORA PROBABLY DOESN’T EVEN WANT TO HAVE TEA WITH COMPANY SUCH AS YOU! Isn’t that right, Bora?”
Ms. Hot Pink and Mr. Glaring Green glared down at her, waiting for a response. Bora shrank slightly. “I……that’s…” she mumbled, twisting the door handle. She held her breath for a moment. Then, suddenly, she sucked in a breath, let go of the handle, and straightened to face them. “Excuse me,” she said firmly up at them, crossing her arms. “What is it you two are fighting about?”
The two of them blinked, and looked at one another in confusion. They simply stared in silence for a moment.
“I don’t know why you would ask,” Ms. Hot Pink said clippily, not looking at Mr. Glaring Green, “But it’s quite clear that this idiot of a man is trying to steal my new friend.” Mr. Glaring Green glowered at her.
“A typical response from the likes of her,” he said shortly, looking away from Ms. Hot Pink, who gasped. “What is clear is that this haggish woman is trying to steal my new fellow historian.” Ms Hot Pink gaped offendedly at him.
Bora sighed. She tapped her foot and glanced impatiently up at the ceiling. “First of all,” she said firmly, “I’m not a historian, sir—I work in psychology. And second of all, I didn’t mean about the tea just now. I meant, is there a reason why it seems you two are at war?”
Ms. Hot Pink and Mr. Glaring Green blinked down at her. They looked at each other, then back at Bora.
“We really don’t know,” said Mr. Glaring Green, shrugging.
“We’ve got no idea,” said Ms. Hot Pink, simply.
“I suppose we just find each other terribly annoying,” said Mr. Glaring Green plainly. “So, we can never agree on anything.” Ms. Hot Pink nodded in agreement.
Bora pursed her lips. “But, you just agreed.”
“No, no, we didn’t.” Ms. Hot Pink looked at Mr. Glaring Green incredulously, then at Bora. She adjusted her shawl nervously. “Don’t be silly, dear Bora. We’ve never done so and never will.”
“Quite right,” nodded Mr. Glaring Green.
Bora blinked up at them. She tapped her foot. “But, you just agreed—again.”
Ms. Hot Pink gasped. Mr. Glaring Green pushed his glasses up ferociously in defense. He looked at Bora for a moment—and then suddenly, he staggered backwards, as though something heavy had hit him over the head.
“By GEORGE,” he wheezed, pointing a long, shaking finger at Bora’s pants, “is that orange juice?”
“Hmm?” Bora glanced down. “Oh—yes, I spilled it earlier.”
Ms. Hot Pink made a wailing noise like a tea kettle being strangled. “Oh, LORD,” she shrieked, staggering backwards in her clicking fuschia clogs. “Oh, dear GOD! She—drinks ORANGE juice?”
“LORD SAVE US!” Mr. Glaring Green wailed, covering his eyes with a skinny forearm.
“GOD HELP US!” Ms. Hot Pink screeched, blocking Bora from sight with her furry shawl.
Bora looked down at her pants. An orange sticky spot stared back up at her, from her hamstring to her calf. “Um, I’m sorry,” she said puzzledly, looking at the quarrelers. “It’s just orange juice. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? YOU MUST BE DAFT AS A BUSH!” Ms. Hot Pink yowled in distress, biting her pink nails.
“That’s not very nice,” Bora frowned.
“A TOTAL NUTTERHEAD!” Mr. Glaring Green howled in agreement, cowering away from Bora. “YOU’LL THROW OFF THE WHOLE COLOR SCHEME WITH THAT HORRID CONCOCTION!”
“Throw off the color scheme?” Bora raised an eyebrow.
“NO FASHION SENSE!” Ms. Hot Pink moaned in misery, pressing the furry shawl over her glasses. “NONE AT ALL!”
“A DISGRACE TO THE HISTORY OF INTERIOR DESIGN!” Mr. Glaring Green bellowed. “OH, MY POOR EYES!”
“Mr. Abbott,” Ms. Hot Pink said faintly, bringing a coral-pink-nailed hand to her forehead. She had suddenly turned white as a sheet. “I think I may…I may…”
Mr. Glaring Green—that is, Mr. Abbott—quickly steadied Ms. Hot Pink by the shoulder and offered her a forest-green-clad elbow. She took it weakly. “Do not fear, Ms. Church!” he exclaimed, sounding rather faint himself. “Take my arm, and we shall go get some air far away from this debacle of color-clashing. Come, let us go.” Then, without so much as a glance in Bora’s direction, the two of them whirled around, strode through the lobby, pushed open the door, and were gone.
The lobby clock ticked.
The hamstring-to-calf orange juice splotch dried.
The shadows on the pink-and-green doors grew a little longer.
Bora blinked. Slowly, as though in a daze, she stepped back and closed the gray door, and the lobby was quiet again.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
An excited, violent knocking that threatened to beat down her gray door woke Bora up in the morning. She opened her eyes and looked about groggily. Then she sat up in bed, smacked her lips, and reluctantly pushed off the covers. In her pajamas, she trudged to the door, where the furious knocking had not ceased. Just before opening it, she closed her eyes, gathered in a deep breath, and squared her shoulders. Then she turned the knob and opened the door, braced for anything.
Standing outside her door were Ms. Hot Pink and Mr. Glaring Green—that is, Ms. Church and Mr. Abbott—shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, sporting the biggest, happiest smiles Bora had ever seen. And their outfits were entirely, utterly wrong.
Ms. Pink Church wore the same disorderly bubblegum ribbon in her impossibly curly hair; the same violently fuschia clogs, and the same hot pink cat-eyed thick-framed glasses. But her sundress—she wore a long sundress that reached all the way to her ankles—was green. Bora stared. Many shades of green, in fact; the background of it was a curious, pastel-ish lime, and the flowers patterned all over it must have encompassed every shade of green in the natural and unnatural world. Her knit shawl was the color of a fresh avocado.
Mr. Green Abbott wore the same basil-colored watch, the same clashing mint-colored loafers, and the same thin-wired emerald glasses. But his sweater—another turtleneck, quite identical to yesterday's in style and fit—was pink! A hot pink, too, bright enough to make Bora squint at the sight. His khaki pants had also turned quite pink: the sort of babyish pink you see in a freshly-bathed piglet.
“Hello, dearest Bora!” trilled Ms. Pink Church. Bora snapped out of her stupor.
“Yes, a lovely morning to you!” said Mr. Green Abbott with a jolly grin.
“Hello,” said Bora slowly, stealing another glance at their clothing, then at their arms twined tightly around each other. “You both look nice.”
“Why, you’re so sweet!” Ms. Pink Church laughed gaily. “We went out right when the sun rose and bought these from the boutique down the street. That was a lovely morning walk, wasn’t it, darling?”
“Yes, darling dearest,” agreed Mr. Green Abbott. “It was just delightful getting to spend a large amount of time together without throwing anything.” Ms. Pink Church smiled at him warmly. He smiled back. Bora felt very strange.
“Anyhow,” said Ms. Pink Church brightly, “We came by to thank you, dearest Bora.”
Bora raised her eyebrows. “Thank me?”
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Green Abbott. He and Ms. Pink Church looked at each other, their faces shining with immeasurable joy. “We are ever so grateful to you for helping to bring us together. You must be our guardian angel.”
“Me? Bring you together?” Bora blinked, letting go of the door handle and crossing her arms in puzzlement. “Your guardian angel?”
“Yes, quite,” said Ms Pink Church. She straightened the neckline of her very green sundress. “It was after scolding you about the orange juice that we realized it: we much prefer working as a team than as rivals, whether in correcting fashion catastrophes, or in life.”
“Yes, quite, my lovely Polly!” Mr. Green Abbott agreed lovingly. “I couldn’t have put it better!”
“Oh, stop it, Charlie, you flatter me. By George, look at the time—we’ll miss our romantic breakfast reservation! Bora, dear, thank you again for your kindness. We’ll be back soon—and we must all have tea together—over fashion—later today!”
“Over history,” Mr. Green Abbott—Mr. Charlie Green Abbott, that is—corrected her.
“Over fashion,” said Ms. Polly Pink Church, rather clippily. Mr. Green Abbott made a sound in the back of his throat that was somewhat comparable to a very frustrated parrot.
“Well, then,” said Ms. Pink Church shortly, pulling on his arm. “We’ll be going now. Enjoy your Saturday, Bora dear!” And with that, the two of them whirled around, strode across the lobby, pried open the front door, and were gone. The sound of them bickering about fashion and history fairly increased in volume as they grew further and further away.
When the sound of their voices had finally faded, Bora let go of the door handle. She rubbed her eyes, and drew in a deep breath.
Then she laughed to herself in the empty lobby.
She laughed so hard that her stomach began to hurt, and little spots danced in her vision. When she was done, she wiped her eyes on her pajama sleeve and gave a great sigh.
“I should go for a walk, shouldn’t I?” she murmured giddily.
Thirty minutes later, she pushed open the front door of the condo and stepped outside, munching on a piece of cool clementine. The fresh air felt quite good on her face. Her eyes seemed to sigh in relief upon seeing other colors besides pinks and greens and grays. As Bora turned onto the sidewalk, something caught her eye. She looked up, and frowned.
The house was no longer an odd Neopolitan.
Instead, the whole thing had been splattered with all shades of green and pink, as though it were a Jackson Pollock masterpiece. There on the neon green side, there were great splotches of rose and maroon and coral; there on the hot pink side, there were swathes of jasmine-leaf-green and lime. It looked as though someone had covered the windows and sloshed buckets of paint all over the place in a fit of excitement. The paint still dripped wetly in places onto the grass.
Bora studied this artwork for a moment. She could imagine Ms. Polly Pink Church and Mr. Charlie Green Abbott at it in the early hours of the morning, giggling and dancing giddily around each other, throwing paint this way and that. She crossed her arms.
“You,” she said, jabbing a finger at the house, “are going to be back to a green-gray-pink Neapolitan sandwich by tomorrow morning.”
Then she shook her head, finished off the rest of the clementine in one large mouthful, and strolled away.